March 6, 2018 3:12 am

Lost at sea for a year, UBC ‘sailbot’s’ voyage took her through 3 hurricanes

UBC's self-navigating sailboat is finally back home, after a trip that took an unexpected turn. Linda Aylesworth reports.

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You can hear Ada the sailboat swoosh when you rock her back and forth.

The water you hear inside the robotic sailboat is a souvenir, of sorts, that the vessel brought home after a journey through the Atlantic Ocean that took her through three hurricanes before she went silent, only to be picked up by a U.S. research vessel.

WATCH: UBC ‘sailbot’ found after drifting at sea

The so-called “sailbot,” which was created by a team of engineering, computer and science students at UBC, was first launched into the Atlantic off of Newfoundland in August 2016, with the hope that she would become the first autonomous sailboat to cross that ocean to Ireland.

“It had to be completely autonomous,” Oscar Janzen of the boat’s team told Global News.

“We weren’t allowed to have any control over the boat, so it would make the entire journey based on its own information and decision making.”

Ada’s journey started off swimmingly, well enough that members of the team monitoring her journey thought she would make it all the way.

Then she became caught in Hurricane Matthew, a Category 5 storm that battered the Caribbean and the southern U.S. — and two more hurricanes that followed.

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Ada went silent in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and she was left adrift in the Atlantic.

READ MORE: UBC’s autonomous sailboat drifting in the Atlantic after mechanical failure

No one saw any sign of her until December 2017, when she was spotted by the U.S. research vessel RV Neil Armstrong.

“It was incredible, I thought it wasn’t real at first,” said Serena Ramley, another member of the team watching over Ada.

“They sent us pictures, and that was when we knew it was true.”

Bringing Ada home took another three months of work. She was transported back to Vancouver on the back of a truck.

The team hugged Ada when she returned, Ramley said.

The sailbot may not have made a voyage all the way across the Atlantic, but she’s brought back plenty of knowledge for her team.

“We get the chance to see what happened to our project after the most severe testing it could have undergone,” Janzen said.

“Even if she had sunk completely, it would have been a huge learning experience, not a failure at all.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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